I’m Not There is a trippy series of reckless cannonballs into a pool of American artistic reinvention, fracturing facets of Bob Dylan into six pieces. (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Marcus Carl Franklin are Dylan’s different “sides.”)
Cinematographer Edward Lachman’s different lighting and framing of each story aesthetically and effectively appropriates the idea, and Blanchett and Franklin give compelling performances.
But why is Todd Haynes’ film so obnoxiously precious, repetitive, overindulgent and long? Concocted with co-writer Oren Moverman (Jesus’ Son), Haynes’ essential idea is that all an audience can make of artists is intangible. Whatever connection is made exists only through things that constantly evolve and change — namely creative, artistic and social sensibilities.
That’s beaten into the ground after an hour, leaving 75 minutes of stifled performances, odd musical cameos (My Morning Jacket in greasepaint) and scenes played with such deathly seriousness they’d be better off as parody. David Cross does show up (as poet Allen Ginsberg) but the last act plays like something he’d send up on Mr. Show with partner Bob Odenkirk.
Packed with roaming animals and people in weird Halloween costumes in a town called Riddle, it’s the domain of Billy the Kid (Gere), “Dylan” in twilight and in voluntary hiding from persecutors as a hermit on horseback.
He’s preceded by: Woody Guthrie (Franklin), a young black boy who’s the idealistic “Dylan”; Jack Rollins (Bale), a transitional “Dylan” shown only in archival documentary style; Robbie Clark (Ledger), a popular actor approximating “Dylan’s” arrogance in success; Jude Quinn (Blanchett), the “Dylan” most of us know from the squiggly hair, sunken face and artistic frustration; and Arthur Rimbaud (Whishaw), “Dylan’s” smoking, subconscious super-ego under cosmic inquisition.
These storylines intertwine and dovetail, often with more biographical cliches than Haynes or Moverman might think are in play.
As in The Aviator, Blanchett delivers another gimmick mimic of a household icon. While her jittery, confrontational Jude — fending off suggestions that he pulled the cord on social sincerity when he plugged in his instruments — isn’t as resonant as her Katharine Hepburn, it’s still one of the best things to be isolated from this miscalculation.
So is Franklin, coming in like a complete unknown with potent work as a child who must discern where to draw a line between serving what has inspired his past and what will drive his future.
It could be argued that no such film could be made about any other performer than Dylan, so relevant, omnipresent and productive across so many decades of upheaval. But this shapeless glob about creative tendencies toward contradiction and chaos finds itself with no direction home.